DIAMONDHEAD, Miss. (WLOX) - Teachers and coaches play an important role in the lives of kids. PGA professional Hoppy Smith helps young athletes discover the game of golf at Diamondhead Country Club.
He believes the key is having fun, getting exercise and in some cases preparing to compete in youth golf events.
You’ll find Smith at the driving range surrounded by young golfers
“Alright guys. Let’s do this. Let’s spread out and take a look at you,” Smith said to a group of youngsters. Smith runs the Golf Academy of Diamondhead.
“We’re actually the largest U.S. Kids teaching staff that U.S. Kids has. We have 15 certified instructors at Diamondhead right now. We start kids around five years old and take them up all the way through college,” Smith said.
Smith has won countless awards, from the 2016 Gulf States teacher of the year to 2018 top 50 U.S. Kids Teacher to the 2017/18 Golf Digest Best Teacher in the State.
He loves seeing youngsters of all ages and from all backgrounds and circumstances discover the game of golf and find joy along the way.
“There’s nothing like watching a kid hit a golf ball and watch that smile come on their face. We’ve had kids with disabilities come in and thought they would never be able to hit a golf ball. They were introverts and got explosive out on the driving range. Watching a personality change, golf can do that for someone,” Smith said.
Smith uses technology to teach all of his students. Cameras and computers let him analyze every aspect of the golf swing. The equipment lets him be a better teacher and his students appreciate his knowledge and technique.
“He’s awesome to kids, and he knows what he’s talking about. You always know you’re getting good information,” said Katelynn Altese, a competitive golfer.
Smith puts an emphasis on fun when working with the kids. He also stresses how important physical activity is. He encourages kids to trade their electronic devices for a set of golf clubs.
“The exercise, getting out and enjoying the sunshine, moving around and getting off the couch,” Smith said.
Golf also teaches about honesty and integrity.
“Golf can relate to life. You have to play it where it lies. Sometimes you get tough breaks,” said Mateo Jimenez, one of Smith’s students.
This PGA professional is a teacher, coach and mentor. He’s proud of the role he plays in not just developing young golfers but good citizens.
“I love just watching a player develop. I guess it’s no different than a school teacher, watching them in the first grade and seeing the developmental period going through and watching them graduate and saying I had something to do with that. Walking off that stage as a senior on their way to college,” Smith said with pride.
Three of his players are getting ready to compete in the U.S. Kids World Championships on Aug. 1-3 at the Iconic Pinehurst Golf Course in North Carolina.